Modern living can often feel overwhelming. We are often consumed by the perceived need to get things done, be involved in many activities, and acquire more possessions. Whether as individuals or leaders, employees or business owners, we’re conditioned to believe that more is better.
This sort of approach to living is unsustainable. We only have finite amounts of time and energy to spend each day. Our consumption is often on a disproportionate scale that puts a strain on our planet’s resources while highlighting divisions of inequality.
Many people can find a reprieve by paying others to deal with tedious tasks. A dump bin rental service takes your mind off the stressful job of sorting through and disposing of waste. In like manner, executives delegate work to junior partners or outsource to another company.
Still, we don’t always have the resources to spare for such redistribution of work. Every food chain has its bottom. At some point, you may want to rethink a philosophy predicated on doing and buying more and embracing a Spartan lifestyle.
The modern Spartan concept
Modern audiences might be familiar with Sparta’s raw, masculine image as presented in the movie 300. As with most films, several creative liberties are taken with regard to historical facts. But the movie and its source graphic novel do get certain aspects of Spartan culture correct.
The Spartan custom of agoge, in which a boy leaves their home at the age of 7 to train with their fellow youths and fend for themselves, is accurate. Spartan women were also empowered, although this was compared to the norms of other societies of that time.
The word ‘Spartan’ itself has become an adjective synonymous with austerity, frugality, and rigor. It has been popularly appropriated in sport as the moniker of various professional, university, and secondary school teams. Fitness enthusiasts seeking a challenge can participate in obstacle-filled Spartan races.
Our ideal of the Spartan lifestyle is not a wholesale endorsement of their customs and practices. Modern adherents don’t advocate slavery or infanticide or expel their children from home at an early age. We can choose to adopt aspects that are reasonable and compatible with the more enlightened views of today.
A matter of mindset
In popular culture and historical accounts, the Spartans are often depicted in opposition to the Athenians. Both of these city-states are perhaps the best-known representatives of the ancient Greek world.
Athens’s people are frequently portrayed as politically active and sophisticated, cultured, intellectual, and opulent. By contrast, Spartans tend to be drawn up as opposites: militaristic and egalitarian, because of their communal society.
While Sparta and Athens certainly had more differences than similarities, they were both parts of the same tradition. Spartans also valued things like learning, the arts, and culture. Adopting a Spartan lifestyle does not mean depriving yourself of these interests.
You can be Spartan by dedicating time to regular, intense exercise. You can commit to being frugal or eating healthy meals and appropriately-sized portions. But above all, this is about mindset.
The distinctive characteristic of Spartans was courage, not boldness. Courage enabled them to rise above concerns of convenience, behave maturely, and prepare to endure. By contrast, boldness is associated with impulsiveness and things of the moment.
Applying the takeaways
The Spartan lifestyle appeals to many people who have grown tired of modern living and the presumptive ‘quest for more.’
The developed world suffers from a problem of abundance. It makes us soft, conditions us to seek convenience, contributes to an epidemic of obesity and other health problems, and consumes a disproportionate amount of global resources at unsustainable rates.
At the same time, we also have a problem with too much information. Social media invites continuous comparisons to others and applies a relentless form of status pressure. We’re always wondering if we might be missing out, if someone else is ‘doing it better,’ and if buying something will make our lives better.
Embrace austerity and get comfortable with strain and discomfort. Say no to wanting more. Apply the Spartan mindset throughout your life.
Instead of hitting the gym for an hour and then lazing about, you can commit to constant physical activity just by carrying out your daily activities. You get in the habit of spending less and finding practical, cost-effective solutions to problems. And you avoid comparing yourself to others living a bold, reckless lifestyle with no thought for the future.
Borrowing these virtues from the ancient Spartans might give you the courage to effect lasting change, not only in your life but in the problems we collectively face.